Happy Release Day John Grant

John Grant releases his fifth solo album, Boy From Michigan, today Bella Union in the UK/Europe and Partisan in the US. Produced by Cate Le Bon, the album is a triumph and is being hailed by critics and fans alike. Boy From Michigan is available to listen to / order here.

Somewhere in the last decade, John Grant established himself as one of the great musical chroniclers of the American Dream, angled mostly from its flipside. What if everything you were promised, if you worked hard, loved hard, played and prayed hard, it all turned to ash? Grant lays it all out for careful cross-examination in his most autobiographical work to date. In a decade of making records by himself, he has playfully experimented with mood, texture and sound. At one end of his musical rainbow, he is the battle-scarred piano-man, at the other, a robust electronic auteur. Boy from Michigan seamlessly marries both.

Boy from Michigan sets out its stall early in order to fan his lyrical deck wider. Grant knows America well enough to document it in microscopic, painterly detail. The brittle intensity of the early life experiences of a middle-aged man twist stealthily into a broad metaphor for the state of the nation. “I guess I’m just thinking about where I came from,” he notes, “and what I went into.”

With longtime friend Cate Le Bon in the production chair, Grant has maximized the emotional impact of the melodies, stripping the noise of vaudeville and mood-enhancing a fruitful, spare, strangely orchestrated new world for him to live in. A clarinet forms the bedrock of a song. There is a saxophone solo. The record swings between ambient and progressive, calm and livid.

“Cate and I are both very strong-willed people”, says Grant.  “Making a record is hard on a good day. The mounting stress of the US election and the pandemic really started to get to us by late July and August last year. It was at times a very stressful process under the circumstances, but one which was also full of many incredible and joyful moments.”

With the frenetic backdrop to its incubation playing out in the distance, the narrative journey of Boy from Michigan opens with Grant returning to his artistic prettiest. It begins with three songs drawn from his pre-Denver life: the title song, The Rusty Bull and County Fair. “It’s my Michigan Trilogy,” he says. Each draws the listener in to a specific sense of place, before untangling its significance with a rich cast-list of local characters, often symbolizing the uncultivated faith of childhood.

Tracks four and five, Mike and Julie and The Cruise Room, are perhaps the most affecting of the record, plunging deep into Grant’s late teenage years in Denver. In the former, Grant is confronted by a friend who wants to be with him, a man he brick-walls by purposefully positioning a mutual female friend in between as he cannot yet face his own sexuality. In the latter, he revisits the untouched, faded grandeur of the Art Deco bar at Denver’s Oxford Hotel for one last night as a young man before trying his luck in Germany, to see if Europe is a better fit.

Cementing the mid-point of the record are a pair of skittish, scholarly dance tunes, Best in Me and Rhetorical Figure. The latter is built in the lineage of his nascent electropop darlings, Devo, suggesting a formative world in which brains are regarded as horny as bodies. Dropping the pace, Just So You Know is the most familiar, John Grant-ian of his songs on the record. It is meant as a song to comfort his nearest and dearest after he’s gone.

Childhood as a horror narrative returns on Dandy Star, observing the tiny Grant watching the Mia Farrow horror movie See No Evil on the old family TV set in which a blind girl arrives back at her Aunt and Uncle’s home after a date and, after sleeping through the night, awakens in the morning only to discover gradually that everyone has been murdered.

These nine songs are the tumescent prologue to his grand climax. The pure smut of Your Portfolio imagines the US economy rewritten as a throbbing libidinous cock. “It’s where we are now in The States,” he says. “We worship money and any pretence that there’s any worship of anything else going on – like a loving God, for example – is just pathetic. Character doesn’t matter. Intimacy doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters. Wealth is sexualised. It’s a poem in honor of money. The song sounds funny, but I think it’s probably one of the darkest and most serious on the record.”

In ‘The Only Baby’ he finally removes his razor blade from a pocket to cleanly slit the throat of Trump’s America, authoring a scathing epitaph to an era of acute national exposition. He positions the former president as the bastard child of the nation’s virgin mother: “Don’t look so glum/There’s no reason to be sad/Because that’s the only baby that bitch could ever have.” As a final coda, on Billy, he gets to the causation of all this, a prevalent culture of hyper-machismo, one which fashioned us all for failure.

In his own accidental, skewed manner, John Grant may just have nailed, if not the, then at least an American Dream. Bruised and scarred he may be, but the boy from Michigan is no weak-hearted fool.

Piroshka share tribute to Vaughan Oliver

With their new album Love Drips And Gathers due for release 23rd July via Bella Union, and having previously shared a video to lead track ‘Scratching At The Lid’, today Piroshka share a video to new single “V.O.” Of the track, which is a tribute to Vaughan Oliver, 4AD’s legendary in-house art director who died in late 2019, Piroshka vocalist Miki Berenyi says: I wrote this originally as an instrumental but the rest of the band convinced me to put a vocal on it. The lyrics are snapshot snippets of Vaughan Oliver’s funeral in January 2020 – lines from the speeches, fleeting impressions of the day. I’m getting to the age where the people I grew up with are dying and I find funerals a comfort in the sadness, formal but emotional, a celebration of a life, a space for the living to reconnect.” Director Connor Kinsey adds: “We wanted to put this ominous-being centre frame and allow the viewer to reflect on fear and loss whilst also embracing hope and futurity through its life experiences. Giving the subject no recognisable features meant that it’s emotional journey through the different timelines felt more relatable to a wider audience.”

Piroshka emerged in 2018, four individuals with distinct musical identities but also overlapping histories – a combination that might have unsettled, or even overwhelmed, some bands. But in their case, the bond only got stronger. After “Brickbat” explored social and political divisions by way of what MOJO described as “Forceful, driving garage songs and dream-pop epics”, Love Drips And Gathersfollows a more introspective line – the ties that bind us, as lovers, parents, children, friends – to a suitably subtler, more ethereal sound, whilst still revelling in energy and drama.

“If Brickbat was our Britpop album, then Love Drips And Gathers is shoegaze!” reckons vocalist/guitarist Miki Berenyi, formerly of Lush, a band that effortlessly bridged the two genres like no other. “It wasn’t intentional; we just wanted a different focus. I’ve always seen debut albums as capturing a band’s first moments, when you really have momentum, and then the second album is the chance for a more thoughtful approach.” 

Bassist Mick Conroy (Modern English) agrees. “Brickbat was a classic first album; noisy and raucous. On Love Drips And Gathers, we’ve calmed down and explored sounds, and space.”

To recap; before Miki and KJ ‘Moose’ McKillop were a couple (and parents), they were pivotal figures on the London-centric 90s indie scene. Likewise, Elastica, whose drummer Justin Welch was part of Lush’s 2017 reunion, whilst Mick had played for both Moose and – on their last ever gig – Lush. 

As Lush Mark II came to an end, Justin persuaded Miki (who’d abandoned music when Lush first split in 1997) to start another band, Piroshka, which in turn reignited Moose’s own long-dormant ambitions. Whilst Justin and Miki were the dominant influence on Brickbat, this time Moose and Mick were given greater control over the production, with invaluable assistance from Bella Union’s in-house engineer Iggy.

The way Love Drips And Gathers changes shape and dynamic is less a reprise of nineties Brit indie than a transformation into a more shivery, Euro-mantic version with glistening electronic filigrees. The opening ‘Hastings’ sets the tone. Luminous drops of guitar underpin Miki’s becalmed vocal before drums, bass and a Mellotron add pace while the decorative coda features their old pal Terry Edwards on flugelhorn. 

Framed by Mellotron, cello and piano. ‘The Knife-Thrower’s Daughter’ emphatically proves Piroshka can be restrained without losing any essence of drama: the calm before the euphoria pure-pop storm of ‘Scratching At The Lid’. The words ‘ethereal’ and ‘shimmering’ were surely invented for the likes of ‘Loveable’, but the uncanny DNA of ‘V.O.’ is less categorisable – a Bond theme in the making with electro-gliding beats, perhaps? ‘Wanderlust’ and ‘Echoloco’ might be described as Francophile cousins of Lush before the haunting lullaby of ‘Familiar’ segues into the pulsing, rippling instrumental finale ‘We Told You’ – more eighties synth drama than nineties indie, with vocal samples played on what Moose calls, “the Miki-tron.” 

Love Drips And Gathers – named after a line in a Dylan Thomas poem – was inspired by love, family, belonging, memory. Miki and Moose split the eight lyrics, with some poignant overlaps here too. Miki’s ‘Loveable’ looks to Moose; Moose’s ‘The Knife-Thrower’s Daughter’ looks to Miki, but also their daughter Stella and his sister Anna; an empathic, touching embrace of the women in his life. 

Staying within the family, Moose eulogises his late mother (the idyllic childhood seaside trip of ‘Hastings 1973’) and father (the more conflicted ‘Scratching At The Lid’). On ‘V.O.’, Miki pays fond tribute to Vaughan Oliver, 4AD’s legendary in-house art director who died suddenly in December 2019, and who had a particularly close relationship with Lush during their time on the label (like Brickbat, Love Drips And Gathers’ beautiful and enigmatic artwork is by Vaughan’s former design partner Chris Bigg). 

Love Drips And Gathers’ nine tracks will each have its own video (all to be made by Connor Kingsley), with a continuing thread that will eventually create one story. Piroshka’s own story is rooted in family – both those you’re born with, and those (friends) you choose.

Happy Release Day to Lanterns On The Lake

Bella Union and Lanterns On The Lake are celebrating the 10th Anniversary vinyl reissue of the acclaimed debut album, Gracious Tide, Take Me Home, out now on Bella Union and available to listen to / order here. The band’s much-loved debut has been meticulously remastered at Abbey Road studios and repressed on double vinyl in a gatefold sleeve with gold foil print. Additionally, the album comes with five previously unreleased tracks recorded during the original sessions.

Fusing the most fragile and graceful end of the folk music spectrum to the most luminous properties of cinemascope rock, Gracious Tide, Take Me Home used a smorgasbord of instruments to paint a variety of beautiful vistas, from the ambient ‘Ships In The Rain’ to the galloping ‘A Kingdom’, from the six-minute layers of ‘The Places We Call Home’ to the skeletal 73-second finale ‘Not Going Back To The Harbour’. There’s always been a compelling drama to Lanterns On The Lake; the way the opening track ‘Lungs Quicken’ shifts from dreamy restraint to a full-blown crescendo indicated the true power at their fingertips.

Lanterns On The Lake formed in 2008 combining a group of friends who had all played in various bands on the local music scene. Hazel Wilde (vocals, guitar), Paul Gregory (guitars, backing vocals, electronics) and Ol Ketteringham (drums, piano) still comprise the core of the band whilst previous members Adam Sykes (vocals, guitar), Brendan Sykes (bass) and Sarah Kemp (violin) departed prior to the second album.

Hazel commented at the time that: “A lot of lyrics were inspired by my moving back to the coast (North Shields), where I grew up, after I’d been living near the city centre. They’re also memories of growing up here, the feeling of homesickness, and stories of people around us and of the sea. The title Gracious Tide, Take Me Home seemed to sum up all the themes.”

There might be a vein of sadness through this music – ‘Ships In The Rain’ was inspired by a local fisherman who went missing at sea, and ‘A Kingdom’ was inspired by the book letters sent home by WW2 soldiers – but there is just as much hope in ‘Keep on Trying’  and ‘You’re Almost There’, where fear and insecurities are banished by self-belief; “the feeling that you’re going places,” as Hazel says. Mirroring the sentiment of the album title, ‘I Love You, Sleepyhead’ and ‘Places We Call Home’ draw on the comfort and security of home, friendship and memory.

Having been forced to postpone their touring plans for last year’s Mercury nominated Spook The Herd album, Lanterns On The Lake should finally have the chance to perform the songs live for their fans this Autumn when they take to the road for the below UK live dates…

John Grant announces 2022 dates

With his much-anticipated new album Boy From Michigan due for release 25th June via Bella Union, John Grant today announces news of two new UK live dates in June 2022 to follow his Autumn tour this year, performing at both the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire in London and the Albert Hall in Manchester.

Somewhere in the last decade, John Grant established himself as one of the great musical chroniclers of the American Dream, angled mostly from its flipside. What if everything you were promised, if you worked hard, loved hard, played and prayed hard, it all turned to ash? Grant lays it all out for careful cross-examination in his most autobiographical work to date. In a decade of making records by himself, he has playfully experimented with mood, texture and sound. At one end of his musical rainbow, he is the battle-scarred piano-man, at the other, a robust electronic auteur. Boy from Michigan seamlessly marries both.

Boy from Michigan sets out its stall early in order to fan his lyrical deck wider. Grant knows America well enough to document it in microscopic, painterly detail. The brittle intensity of the early life experiences of a middle-aged man twist stealthily into a broad metaphor for the state of the nation. “I guess I’m just thinking about where I came from,” he notes, “and what I went into.”

With longtime friend Cate Le Bon in the production chair, Grant has maximized the emotional impact of the melodies, stripping the noise of vaudeville and mood-enhancing a fruitful, spare, strangely orchestrated new world for him to live in. A clarinet forms the bedrock of a song. There is a saxophone solo. The record swings between ambient and progressive, calm and livid.

“Cate and I are both very strong-willed people”, says Grant.  “Making a record is hard on a good day. The mounting stress of the US election and the pandemic really started to get to us by late July and August last year. It was at times a very stressful process under the circumstances, but one which was also full of many incredible and joyful moments.” 

With the frenetic backdrop to its incubation playing out in the distance, the narrative journey of Boy from Michigan opens with Grant returning to his artistic prettiest. It begins with three songs drawn from his pre-Denver life: the title song, The Rusty Bull and County Fair. “It’s my Michigan Trilogy,” he says. Each draws the listener in to a specific sense of place, before untangling its significance with a rich cast-list of local characters, often symbolizing the uncultivated faith of childhood. 

Tracks four and five, Mike and Julie and The Cruise Room, are perhaps the most affecting of the record, plunging deep into Grant’s late teenage years in Denver. In the former, Grant is confronted by a friend who wants to be with him, a man he brick-walls by purposefully positioning a mutual female friend in between as he cannot yet face his own sexuality. In the latter, he revisits the untouched, faded grandeur of the Art Deco bar at Denver’s Oxford Hotel for one last night as a young man before trying his luck in Germany, to see if Europe is a better fit.

Cementing the mid-point of the record are a pair of skittish, scholarly dance tunes, Best in Me and Rhetorical Figure. The latter is built in the lineage of his nascent electropop darlings, Devo, suggesting a formative world in which brains are regarded as horny as bodies. Dropping the pace, Just So You Know is the most familiar, John Grant-ian of his songs on the record. It is meant as a song to comfort his nearest and dearest after he’s gone. 

Childhood as a horror narrative returns on Dandy Star, observing the tiny Grant watching the Mia Farrow horror movie See No Evil on the old family TV set in which a blind girl arrives back at her Aunt and Uncle’s home after a date and, after sleeping through the night, awakens in the morning only to discover gradually that everyone has been murdered. 

These nine songs are the tumescent prologue to his grand climax. The pure smut of Your Portfolio imagines the US economy rewritten as a throbbing libidinous cock. “It’s where we are now in The States,” he says. “We worship money and any pretence that there’s any worship of anything else going on – like a loving God, for example – is just pathetic. Character doesn’t matter. Intimacy doesn’t matter. Nothing else matters. Wealth is sexualised. It’s a poem in honor of money. The song sounds funny, but I think it’s probably one of the darkest and most serious on the record.” 

In The Only Baby he finally removes his razor blade from a pocket to cleanly slit the throat of Trump’s America, authoring a scathing epitaph to an era of acute national exposition. He positions the former president as the bastard child of the nation’s virgin mother: “Don’t look so glum/There’s no reason to be sad/Because that’s the only baby that bitch could ever have.” As a final coda, on Billy, he gets to the causation of all this, a prevalent culture of hyper-machismo, one which fashioned us all for failure.

In his own accidental, skewed manner, John Grant may just have nailed, if not the, then at least an American Dream. Bruised and scarred he may be, but the boy from Michigan is no weak-hearted fool.